5 Types of Locks and How to Choose

Front door lock with key

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Locks are one of the most important inventions throughout human history because they allow you to keep your home and belongings secure while you are sleeping or away from the house. Locks can also be used to keep young children out of dangerous items, like cleaning or pest treatment products. They are even commonly used when you travel to ensure that the items in your luggage are safe during transit.

This guide breaks down 5 common types of locks, including the purpose, benefits, and drawbacks of each. Learn more about the various types of locks, so you can choose the best lock based on the situation to protect your home, family, and belongings,

  • 01 of 05

    Cam Locks

    Cam lock

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    Best for: Securing cabinets, desks, and furniture compartments.

    Cam locks are light-duty locks commonly used to secure cabinets, drawers, and other small compartments. They have a cylindrical base with a keyhole and a metal latch known as the cam. When the key is inserted into the keyhole, the user can turn the key to rotate the cam into the locked or unlocked position.

    These locks offer basic security, but due to the simple, lightweight design, they are relatively easy to break, so they should not be used to lock homes, sheds, or highly valuable containers.

  • 02 of 05

    Knob and Lever Locks

    Knob and lever lock

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    Best for: Securing indoor door locks.

    Knob and lever locks are designed for use with indoor door locks in order to prevent the door knob or door lever from turning and opening the door. These locks are most commonly seen on residential bathroom doors to provide basic security and privacy for anyone using the bathroom.

    However, knob and lever locks should not be installed on exterior doors because they are relatively easy to bypass or break, leaving the home vulnerable to a break in.

  • 03 of 05



    Klaus-Dieter Thill / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Best for: Locking sheds, lockers, luggage, tool boxes, and garage doors.

    Padlocks are a common option for securing a wide range of items and compartments, such as storage sheds, luggage, or even tool boxes. Instead of being installed in the door, the knob, or the lever, padlocks are self-contained locking mechanisms that can be completely removed from the locking latch on the door or compartment. Unlock the padlock to open the shackle or rod, then slide the shackle through the locking latch on a door or compartment. To lock the padlock, simply push the open end of the shackle down into the body of the lock.

    Combination padlocks can only be opened if you enter a set series of numbers into the lock, and they are regularly used to lock school lockers. There are also key padlocks that open with a specific key and TSA-approved padlocks for luggage that can be opened with a master key held only by TSA representatives for the purpose of inspecting checked bags.

  • 04 of 05

    Deadbolt Locks

    Deadbolt lock

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    Best for: Securing exterior doors to homes and businesses.

    A deadbolt lock is the most common option for home security, consisting of a thick metal bolt that protrudes through a strike plate and into the door frame to prevent the door from being opened. Simply enter the correct key into the keyhole and turn the key to open or close the deadbolt.

    You can also put deadbolt locks on compartments or drawers that hold highly valuable items or documents instead of relying on a lightweight cam lock.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Electronic Locks

    Electronic lock

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    Best for: Keyless security and Smart Home integration.

    Electronic locks typically rely on deadbolt, knob, lever, and cam lock mechanisms for the actual lock design, but they open using an electronic keypad, fingerprint scanner, or even voice-recognition software, instead of a physical key. These locks are great for homes or businesses because you don't need to make multiple copies of a physical key. You can all share a code or program individual codes for each person with the authority to access the premises.

    Additionally, some electronic locks are made to be compatible with Smart Home systems. You can pair a smart lock with a smart security camera to be able to see who is at the door. This gives you the freedom to lock and unlock the door with an app on your phone, even if you are still at work, so the kids can get in when they come home from school.


    Electronic locks are great for rental properties or places where multiple people may be making entry at any given time.

Choosing a Lock

When you are looking for a lock, the first factor you need to consider is where the lock will be used. For instance, cam locks are great for indoor cabinetry, but they aren't made for locking an exterior door. The best type of lock for the situation largely depends on the location. Opt for a deadbolt or electronic lock for the exterior doors of the home and consider installing knob locks or level locks for any interior doors that require additional security, like a bathroom.

Cam locks can also be installed on desk drawers to prevent kids or snooping co-workers away from important documents. If you are securing a storage shed or a garage, then a padlock is a good option. Padlocks can also be put on your luggage to prevent theft, just make sure that they are TSA-approved so that the TSA agents don't need to cut the locks off if they have to search a checked bag.

The various types of locks are made for distinct purposes, so selecting the right type shouldn't be too difficult. However, it's still recommended to research individual products to ensure that you select a high-quality lock that can keep your home, family, and belongings safe and secure.